JIN-365 -- A Wish for a More Cyclist-Friendly Japan

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
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Issue No. 365
Wednesday April 19, 2006 TOKYO

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CONTENTS

@@ VIEWPOINT: A Wish for a More Cyclist-Friendly Japan

================== ICA Event - April 20 ====================

Speaker: Jim Weisser, President of Weisser Consulting, Director of PBXL
Topic: IP Telephony, the Future is NOW

Details: Complete event details at http://www.icajapan.jp/
(RSVP Required)
Date: Thursday, April 20, 2005
Time: 6:30 Doors open, buffet dinner included
Cost: 3,000 yen (members), 5,500 yen (non-members),
Open to all - Location is Foreign Correspondents- Club
http://www.fccj.or.jp/static/aboutus/map.php
=======================================================

@@ VIEWPOINT: A Wish for a More Cyclist-Friendly Japan

I ride a bicycle nearly everyday. When I'm in the saddle,
pedaling as fast as my 3-speed granny bike goes, I feel
superior to drivers who roar past leaving exhaust fumes
in their wake. I'm burning calories rather than fossil
fuels. I'm building muscle. I'm savoring the bracing
sensation of wind against face. I'm high on the adrenalin
of the race to station to catch the 7:49. And I'm often
arriving before the bus that started from the local stop
just as I passed by.

For in truth, in city traffic the bicycle is the hare, the
motor vehicle the tortoise. Tokyo city planners conducted
an experiment to determine the swiftest way between City
Hall, in Shinjuku, and the government office quarter of
Toranomon, a distance of eight kilometers. They discovered
the bicycle was the fastest, nearly twice as fast as the
subway or a taxi. Of course, one should not extrapolate
from a single experiment that the bicycle will always be
number one, but it is certainly an important
means of transport in Tokyo.

Japan is a land of the bicycle, third in the world in number
of bicycles owned.

But cyclists here are not treated kindly. Bicycle lanes
and parking facilities are few in comparison with the US
and European countries. Illegally parked cars clog roads,
and signposts often block the few bicycle lanes that do
exist.

Bicyclists, while victims of government neglect to develop
a bike-friendly environment, are not exactly innocents.
They are guilty of reckless behavior that includes running
lights, weaving between pedestrians, tooling along at night
without a light. Japan is perhaps one of the few countries
that permits--if not downright encourages--cycling on
sidewalks.

Yet from the perspective of benefits to health and the
environment, the bicycle is a welcome means of urban
transportation. In the Netherlands some large-scale bicycle
parking lots at train stations are staffed by repairmen.
Japanese train stations offer an array of places for commuters
and travelers to eat and drink. These are welcome. But a
spacious bicycle-parking area would be as welcome.

Bicycles continue to be regarded as a nuisance because
cycle-related issues straddle an array of jurisdictions,
including those of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and
Industry, National Land and Transportation Ministry, the
police and municipalities. Now the police are poised to
crackdown on cyclists who violate traffic laws, depriving
cyclists of their advantage of existing in a gray zone
between rules for pedestrians and those for vehicles.
In short, cyclists will have to observe traffic lights
and stop signs, or face the penalties drivers do. But
cyclists wouldn't have to exist at the oft-dangerous
interface of pedestrian and vehicle if there were lanes
and lots and the rest of the infrastructure to sustain
and nurture the cycling life.

Now's the time for the politicians to speak up. The two
main political parties will in the autumn hold elections
to choose new presidents. Constitutional reform, the
taxation system, the Six Party Talks, conflicting claims
to resources in the South China Sea--the big issues
certainly merit attention. But politicians can really
reveal their true stripes in policies answering the
immediate problems of the average Taro.

I hope they move soon to enact some cycle-friendly
measures. With the police crackdown, I'll have to start
stopping at lights...and bus commuters may get my seat
on the 7:49.

-- Burritt Sabin

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EDITOR
Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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